Commentary

Rookie Watch: Fernandez shoots to the top

Originally Published: November 5, 2008
By David Thorpe | ESPN.com

Rudy FernandezAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesBefore the season began, one would have thought a different Blazer would occupy the top spot early.
With the season under way, some rookies find themselves in the rotation. Others find themselves out of the rotation. The rest are forced to live in that scary spot between the two, never knowing whether their next mistake will be the one that sends them to the bench.

The rookies in the rotation are afforded the luxury of not having to worry about one particular mistake, and that allows them to play with some confidence. But their challenges are great: adhering to the plan and executing it, making adjustments on the fly, and fighting against bigger and stronger men -- all while trying to contribute well.

Rookies can help themselves best by jumping right in and trying to produce from the get-go, rather than sitting back and getting a feel for the action. NBA coaches have little time to wait for a player to get that feel.

Let's see how my top 10 guys are doing after their first full week of action.

(Click here for my complete Rookie 50 rankings.)


1. Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers

We knew he was an excellent perimeter shooter. And his energy in games is a difference-maker. But I didn't know he was such an excellent shot-maker.

Anyone who saw his one-legged jumper and his below-the-rim, left-handed lob finish against the Suns knows exactly what I mean. Fernandez looks to be in my top five all season.


2. Derrick Rose, Bulls

Quickness. Strength. Craftiness with his change of speed. An explosive jumper. A great first step. And the ability to finish with either hand around the rim.

When your point guard has all those qualities -- plus is hardworking and humble, as Rose is -- the All-Star Game is a mere formality. It may take some years, but he's headed in that direction.


3. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies

Like all good big men, Gasol knows he needs to spend time standing as close to the rim as possible early and late on most offensive possessions. Those are the two times post defense can be at its weakest, so hanging around down low can result in easy points or free throws without much work.

With that said, Gasol is not afraid of work. He's an impressive player.


4. Michael Beasley, Heat

Beasley is a solid shooter from the 15-to-19-foot range, but that may end up being a bad thing in the short term. He often elects to take a quick shot from that range even though opponents have a tough time keeping him from getting shots near the rim.

He's a special scorer who's capable of finishing creatively off the dribble inside and not just with back-to-the-basket moves.


5. Jason Thompson , Kings

He might have been No. 1 in these rankings if the Kings weren't so awful. That's how good he's been.

I've always stressed to college coaches and pro scouts that toughness is a talent. Well, this young man from Rider University is the best kind of tough. He does everything with strength and lacks any kind of negative baggage often associated with the toughest guys. He reminds me a lot of Al Horford, and that's a very good thing.


6. Kevin Love, Timberwolves

We know he'll never be able to outjump people when trying to finish inside. But he already knows how to use his body to create contact and put his defender out of shot-blocking position.

Remember, he's been a big man for a long time, so he's had years of practice. A player still growing into his body is not as fortunate.


7. Brook Lopez, Nets

Like most rookies, Lopez often plays too fast. At other times, he's a step slow. But I like how his teammates look for him on their pick-and-roll sets and in the post when the ball is in post-entry position. He presents himself well inside, creates a big target and does so at the right times. Once he gets the game pace down, he may see a jump in efficiency because of this action.


8. Mario Chalmers, Heat

The saying "greater than the sum of his parts" applies to Chalmers.

He's very active on defense, getting both steals and deflections. And he's working to initiate the offense while not being afraid to shoot, an important combination for a young point guard.


9. Darrell Arthur, Grizzlies

He looked like the steal of the draft on opening night, when he scored 11 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. But it always has been about consistency with the talented Arthur, so seeing that he scored just 12 points in his past three games on 5-for-18 shooting is not surprising. Arthur would be best served by doubling up his concentration on rebounding, an area in which he has the talent to be a force all season.


10. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies

My concern about Mayo always has been his inability to create going to the rim, which causes him to earn few short shots and, more importantly, free throws. He has attempted just six free throws in his first four games, and all six came in one game. In those other three games, he took 48 shots from the field without making a single free-throw attempt. Not good. But as a rookie, he won't get many calls. This statistic needs to be followed all season.

Click here for Thorpe's Rookie 50 rankings and more observations

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. To e-mail him, click here.